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The Patio Puzzle: Is true relaxation possible at Chicago's outdoor hotspots?

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Amalie Drury

It's my job to write about Chicago and all of its people, places and things. If it's new and it's cool, I'm checking it out.

Quick, where's your favorite place to drink outside in Chicago? Why? What's your secret for scoring a table? I never, ever tire of this discussion, so please leave your answers below. 

Meanwhile, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I want to go to Big Star whenever I feel like it, be seated immediately and without clawing anyone's eyes out, drink lots of those $1 mini beers and order pork belly tacos to my heart's content. You know, all while basking in comfortable breezes, people-watching for sport and conducting conversations at reasonable volumes.

Instead, we're doomed to repeat this exchange, night after night: 

The Creative Director: "Hey, should we go grab a beer on a patio somewhere?"
The Chaser: "Sure, but where?"
TCD: "Ooh, Big Star. We'll get tacos."
TC: "OK, but I'm warning you, everyone on Facebook is already there. It'll be a madhouse. Again."
TCD: "I'm nearby. I'll check it out and call you back." 
Ring ring...
TC: "Well?"
TCD: "I'm waiting in line. The crowd is so...Lincoln Park. Or annoying, or something. Meet me at Jerry's." 

To Jerry's on Division we proceeded, only to be put on a one-hour wait for a table. Thus, the next-door sidewalk at Division Ale House was where said beers were finally procured. Sure, there were people to watch, but it was no Big Star: 

Waaaahhhhh...!!!
The Chaser: "That's about enough of that." 
The Creative Director: "Seriously. What's with the kids? Why can't we drink a beer in the company of fellow adults?"
TC: "It's almost nine o'clock. Take that baby home and put it to bed." 
TCD: "Yeah, don't bring a baby to a bar! You have a baby, you stay in for a few years." 

We were hungry, and therefore grumpy. When we finally did eat--sandwiches at Jerry's, two hours later--there was a service fiasco that involved our waitress asking in shocked tones: "What? You didn't get your food yet?" 

Sigh. The sidewalk patios of Chicago have yet to get in the swing of things this season.

Sorry this isn't in chronological order, but I must tell you about an absinthe tasting I went to on Tuesday night. That's right, absinthe is making a comeback, especially if Pernod has anything to say about it. Their PR team invited a group of media to The Violet Hour for a little absinthe tutorial, and I'm here to tell you, you want to sip the stuff slowly. It's 140 proof, mmm kay

I was sitting at the bar next to a suburban divorce lawyer and his (younger/blonder) wife, and, after just 1/2 glass of an Oldest Living Confederate Widow (a lemony cocktail made with Pernod) I said:
 
The Chaser: "So, how's divorce lawyering treatin' ya these days? Must be depressing, huh?"
Divorce Lawyer: "It's great! Divorces are way up this year. Things were slow in 09, but we got 41 new divorces in the first four days of 2010." 
TC: "Wow. That is depressing." 
Divorce Lawyer: "Not at all! It's just the way things are." 
The Chaser (leaning over to address Divorce Lawyer's Wife): "How do you marry a guy like this? What do you have, like, an iron-clad prenup?"
Divorce Lawyer's Wife (giggling): "You know it! I'm pretty much screwed either way."

In an attempt to exit on a high note, I left, crossed the street, and tried to get tacos at Big Star. I failed. 

Elsewhere in nightlife, I've been getting a lot of e-mails about a "new" (remodeled) bar patio open this week, which just might be the cure for all this insanity...as long as you keep it to yourselves. 

The place is called The Temple Bar (3001 N. Ashland, formerly Fearon's Public House), and it's modeled after a historic spot in central Dublin. They're promising a large patio space complete with Guinness murals and plenty of "green shrubbery" (see photos below). Has anyone been yet? It's on my list to check out next week, after I'm back from a few days of Kentucky springtimeness. They have bourbon spouts by the side of the road there, have you heard? 

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1 Comment

Marthe L said:

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Ooh! Thanks for the tip about the new place! I like the patios at Duchamp and Silver Cloud in Bucktown, although watch out for things falling out of the trees at Silver Cloud. Duchamp's patio is awesome and there's never a wait on weekdays, but Silver Cloud will let you just sit and drink, while at Duchamp you have to get food.

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